Saturday, 14 February 2015

NXT Takeover: Rival review

Considering the sorter than usual time between Takeover events it's surprising just how uch has changed in NXT since December's R Evolution. The Lucha Dragons lost their tag team titles in an upset to the distinctly non-high profile Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy. Baron Corbin suffered his first loss. Finn Bálor went from tagging with Hideo Itami against The Ascension to being in a number on contenders match. Most notably Kevin Owens went from debutant to title challenger. That's some impressive wrestling development.

After the high standards set by both the regular hour-long shows and the quarterly specials expectations were high for Takeover: Rival. Some of the changes made were designed to play into that. Having the former Prince Devitt in a number one contenders match against Adrian Neville, who'd taken Dragon Gate by storm as PAC while Devitt wa climbing the ranks in New Japan, is one example. Reviving the Kevin Steen v El Generico feud with the two men's new identities was another.

Both matches were designed to appeal to the core NXT audience (the more interested-than-average fan) and they did so. For any Network subscribers not familiar with the non-WWE names, and given that there's a free month going on there will likely more than a few, these matches were likely expected to act as a hook to convince them that the Network exclusive show is worth sticking with. Which, to be fair, is a smart approach from WWE.

As far as the intro video for the event was concerned the NXT championship and the women's championship matches were the biggest things on the card. It's nice to see women wrestlers being presented as something other than the recommended bathroom break they are on RAW and pay-per-views. It was a good package. The Zayn and Owens stuff was predictably great.

Jerking the (televised) curtain was Hideo Itami. He was met with a raucous ovation from the crowd before being left to stand awkwardly in the ring as Rich Brennan, Corey Graves, and Jason Albert introduced themselves and the show before throwing to a clip from the WWE website in which Tyler Breeze attacked Hideo Itami in a locker room. I suspect this light build for the match was a side effect of the Takeover show being brought forward from its original March date. On the plus side we had what is probably NXT's best possible commentary line-up.

Two tweaks were made to 'Prince Pretty's' entrance. Both were minor but did wonders in getting over the character. Firstly he had his iPhone in a furry selfie stick. This sounds basic but it wasn't. It was, in fact, closer to magical. Breeze's selfie stick was one of the highlights of the entire show. Secondly, an attractive female "fan" jumped the guardrail and clamped herself to 'The Gorgeous One' until she was removed by security.

I heart this gimmick.
Itami leathered Breeze with kicks at the start of the match. Breeze cut him off after a bit and worked over his leg. Of note he used the figure four arround the ring post and a version of the Texas cloverleaf.

The crowds went nuts when Itami grabbed breeze for the G2S (outta nowhere!). Breeze escaped, avoided a yakuza kick, and floored Itami with a supermodel kick for two. Breeze punched away at Itami but all that did was fire him up enough to unleash a chop sequence, a running drop kick and a running yakuza kick. All of which put Breeze down for three. The match was mostly Itami but Breeze's three minutes or so of offence were stronger than I'd have expected. It was a good opener. Outside of his match with Bálor this is probably Itami's best showing in NXT so far.

Match two was probably the most eagerly anticipated rematch wrestling's had in a decade: Barry Corbin versus Bill Dempsey. Their initial match had come about because both wanted to be NXT's resident monster. Dempsey failed in his quest, falling to Corbin without much of a struggle in their initial meeting. He'd paid Corbin back for handing him an entirely fair loss by interfering in Corbin's number one contender tournament match against Adrian Neville. Costing him a win there was enough to set up their second bout.

My hopes weren't high for this match after their first had been a mild disappointment. It was better than I'd expected. They set a brisk pace and kept it, playing to their combined strengths with brawling and power moves. Corbin got the win after he ducked a chair shot and caught Dempsey for the End of Days. He was also made the first man to kick out of Dempsey's top rope headbutt. A high honour indeed.

I'm still yet to be impressed by Corbin. He's looked good in sub-thirty second matches. But then it's hard to look bad in them. He didn't shine against the ultra talented Adrian Neville and he did very little with Bull. While Bull is not the wrestler Neville is I am invested in him as a character and therefore interested in his matches. I do think they're taking the right approach with Corbin though. Keeping things simple with him and not trying to rush him to the top.

After shots of Sami Zayn, Becky Lynch (finally in some completely new ring gear) and Bayley it was time for the Lucha Dragons' rematch for the NXT tag team titles. They got a solid reaction. Blake and Murphy got more than they did at any point in 2014 but nothing to denote they are considered stars yet. That's to be expected. They still don't have fleshed out characters and they're still new in their roles. I imagine making us like or hate them will be a priority over the next month of NXT television. They still have their awesome techno entrance music though. That's going to help me like them.  

The four put on a fast, engaging match, making sure to avoid rest holds. There was no extended period of isolation for anyone, with the pairings being presented as even. That made a nice change from the usual WWE tag formula. I think the match suffered from being on such a packed show. Had it taken place on the average RAW it would have been the best match of the night. Here it was overshadowed by everything except Corbin v Dempsey.

They're not real dragons. They're not champions either.
The highlight move of the match was a pop-up belly-to-back suplex into a neck breaker by Blake and Murphy. It was far more impressive than the running suplex followed by a top rope splash that they used to win. If I were them I'd consider switching things up and making the former their finisher.

Before the number on contender tournament final the broadcast was "hacked" with a message that said the takeover wasn't over. It also said to tune into NXT to find out what this was about. The number of people who don't know it's Solomon Crowe getting ready to debut are must be miniscule, not least because his name actually appeared briefly at several points.

A recap of the number one contenders tournament preceded the finals. Adrian Neville had beaten Tyson Kidd and Baron Corbin. Finn Bálor had beaten loveable loser Curtis Axel and Hideo Itami. Their accomplishments outside of WWE were tacitly acknowledged and each spoke highly of the other's abilities and achievements but also (obviously) made it clear they intended to earn the championship match. Bálor had an elaborate face paint and do-rag entrance again, just as he had at R Evolution and on the indies and in New Japan before that.

The match was a slow starter, nicely tying into what we'd been told about the two men being familiar with one another. The first big move came from Bálor when he kicked Neville off the top rope to the outside, where he drop kicked him through the crowd barricade. A dazed Neville was tossed back into the ring and double stomped in the back of the head for a two count.

Nev escaped a Bloody Sunday but took a Pele kick, managing to remain on his feet to floor Bálor with a super kick. He followed up with a mighty slick phoenix splash from the second rope (which Albert amusingly made a botch of calling). Bálor came back with a sling blade and a big lariat then hauled him to his feet for Bloody Sunday. Neville kicked at two, to the surprise of the crowd.

Neville went to the top rope and fired off a Red Arrow but was met knees. Bálor immediately rolled Nev into a small package but it only earned him a two count. Neville was shaken enough for Bálor to be able to drop kick him into the corner. That left Nev prone for a double stomp from the top rope, which was enough to end the match.

Demon Bálor double stomping.
The pair shook hands after the match. Neville left looking dejected, his second special event loss in a row. He paused for a moment before leaving the ring. I suspect this was to tease him returning to attack Bálor and turn heel. I still wouldn't be surprised to see a heel Neville in NXT before he hits the main roster but I don't think it's a guarantee. Bálor celebrated in the ring. His posing his less impressive without the headdress and perfectly applied face paint.

The pre-match video for the women's championship match saw each woman giving their views on the match and their chances in it. Banks said she'd tapped out Bayley and Becky and pinned Charlotte as footage played to give truth to her claims. Becky said since her change in attitude she's been unstoppable. It was a lie but an understandable one. She could hardy say since her change in attitude (heel turn) she'd been nothing but a lackey for Sasha. On the subject of Becky, Graves said there's nothing authentic about her character. I could not agree with that statement more. She wrestles well enough but the generic rocker chick character is awful.

Bayley said she had no friends in the match and that that would make it easier for her to win. There's no logic there but everyone loves Bayley so that's not a big deal. Charlotte said she likes defending the belt because she's a fighting champion then acted like a heel even though she's meant to be a face. Really, the Nazi overtones to her "genetically superior" boast should be obvious for everyone to see.

This match stuck relatively close to the usual WWE approach to multi-person matches. Everyone cycled in and out the match and got a turn working with everyone else. The best sequences involved Charlotte and Sasha going one-on-one. Their apparent real life dislike tends to see them getting very stiff with one another, which adds to the realism of the match and makes it easier t be drawn in.

The finish was preceded by a great falsie: Bayley hit a Bayley-to-belly suplex on defending champ Charlotte only to be tossed from the ring by Banks, who covered 'Lady Naitch' for a close two count. It worked so well partly because it played on fans proclivity to look at booking. In those few seconds it was easy to see Banks getting the win Bayley had earned, renewing their singles rivalry.

Sasha applied the Bank Statement on Charlotte immediately after she'd kicked out of Bayley-to-belly. She inched towards the ropes. Instead of the standard WWE approach of the wrestler in the hold pretending it was a struggle to reach Charlotte made it clear she could grab the rope from where she was, but Banks wrenched back on the hold, increasing the pressure and keeping Charlotte away from the bottom rope.

Charlotte, the fightin', gutsy champ, refused to tap. Sasha realised this and quickly released the hold before immediately rolling her up for the pin and the championship. It was a finish that kept Charlotte strong in having her refuse to quit while at the same time demonstrating Sasha's resourcefulness.

Four-ways are hard to get right. This match wasn't the best example of one but it was far from the worst. All four wrestles did everything they could to make the match work. Everyone left looking stronger than they did before. It's hard to argue with that result.

After the match charlotte offered handshake. Sasha hugged the former champ then shoved her away and posed with the belt. Charlotte looked broken by her loss. That was good work. It makes the title mean more.

I'm a big fan of Sasha getting the women's championship.
The video package before the main event was the same one that had been used before the show. It was just as good here. Owens wanted the championship because it would be better for his career and, in turn, his family. It was also implied that he was jealous, bitterly saying that he was with Zayn in all of the countries he mentions having wrestled in. Zayn wanted to beat Owens because he'd been betrayed by him, pure and simple.

Owens got a mixture of boos and pro "Fight, Owens, fight!" chants during his in-ring introduction. Zayn got cheers and a chant of "Olé!". For the benefit of any newcomers to the magical world of wrestling (there's a chance someone not familiar with the background of Zayn) this stems from his time wrestling as El Generico, a purportedly Mexican character.

Owens left the ring at the bell, standing in the aisle to laugh and goad the champion. After waiting for Owens to return t the ring and being held back by the referee Zayn hit a tope (over the ref, natch) onto Owens then threw him into the ring and started punching away at him. Owens quickly shrugged that off, dropping Zayn face first into a turnbuckle and clotheslining him to the mat.

The pace slowed and Owens spent the next several minutes working over Zayn with chinlocks and sleepers. Amazingly the crowd didn't get fed up during this. They were clearly pleased when champion and challenger left the ring for the expected ringside brawl. Owens controlled this, slinging Zayn into barriers, kicking him to the ground and posing for fans.

Back in the ring 'Mr Wrestling' gave Zayn a gutbuster and senton. Zayn struggled up to his knees, took some more punches, scored a slap, then floored Owens with a lariat and clotheslined him from the ring. They brawled at ringside briefly before heading back into the ring for Zayn to hit a blue thunder. Owens wound up sprawled in a corner. Zayn dashed towards him but got put down with a super kick. That sent him stumbling across the ring, where he slumped down and took a cannonbal from Owens. That was followed by a wild pump handle neck breaker for a two count.

Zayn drop kicked Owens as he attempted the pop-up power bomb (which seems to have become his NXT finisher) then hit him with a dragon suplex. Owens kicked out of that at two and made his way out to the apron. There he gave Zayn a Stunner across the top rope and hit a Swanton bomb. That was met with knees from Zayn who, getting an adrenalin kick, shot up to his feet and exploder suplexed Owens into the corner.

Owens left the ring when he saw the Helluva kick coming. Zayn followed and narrowly escaped an apron bomb attempt. With Owens on the floor below Zayn took a chance and went for a seated springboard moonsault. He got it but he landed awkwardly on the ramp, hitting his head and dazing himself. That would lead to his downfall.

Owens was tossed back into the ring. Zayn staggered as he went for the Helluva kick. His second attempt at the run-up saw Owens sneak in and catch him with a pop-up power home for a convincing two count. Zayn staggered up and was met with punches and elbows. He tried fighting back but Owens was too much for him. He was saved by the referee three times before the match doctor rocked up checked on him. Owens pulled Zayn away fom the doctor and power bombed him. Twice. He went for an arrogant, ineffective cover and Sami managed to kick out.  

Medical staff again tried to check on Zayn and Owens again pulled him away. Zayn was hit with two more power bombs before the referee pulled him off as he went for a third. The fans booed before they heard the official ruling: the match had been called in the challenger's favour. Kevin Owens had won the championship by referee stoppage.  

Two months to the day. Owens did tell us.
It took a long time to get going but once it did Owens v Zayn justified its main event slot, though there is a slight feeling that the pair rested on their laurels a bit due to their familiarity with one another whilst Neville and Bálor pushed themselves a little harder. Still, it's certainly a result that freshens up the NXT main event scene and does wonders for new lad Owens.

In fact the entire show did a lot to keep NXT changing. There's not only a new champion but a new number one contender. Zayn is deserving of a rematch and his status as top face isn't harmed because he wasn't pinned to lose the title. Solomon Crowe is ready to debut. Blake and Murphy are in the process of being turned into a stronger act. Rival was another success in eveery possible way for Team NXT.


Results summary
Hideo Itami defeated Tyler Breeze
Baron Corbin defeated Bull Dempsey
Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy defeated the Lucha Dragons to retain the tag team championship
Finn Bálor defeated Adrian Neville to become the number one contender to the NXT championship
Sasha Banks defeated Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Bayley to win the women's championship
Kevin Owens defeated Sami Zayn via referee stoppage to win the NXT championship

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